TALKING ABOUT TALKING
May 5, 1998
The latest Middle East talks ended today in London and may resume next Monday in Washinton. In London Secretary of State Albright described the pace of talks among Israelis, Palestinians, Americans, and British.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, Secretary of State: Good afternoon. For the past 48 hours I have been involved in an intensive effort to reach an agreement that would put Israeli-Palestinian negotiations back on track. We have made some progress which we hope will facilitate agreement in the coming days. If the issues are resolved, President Clinton is prepared to invite the parties to Washington on May 11, 1998, to launch accelerated permanent status negotiations. I have discussed the American ideas with both leaders, and they have engaged with me in a serious and constructive manner. We will need to have further discussions with both of them in the coming days, but Chairman Arafat has accepted our ideas in principle. We have a strategic opportunity to put the peace process back on track, and we cannot afford to lose it. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Prime Minister Blair and his government for their gracious hospitality and his staunch support for my efforts. Ready to take questions.
REPORTER: Is the condition that the parties accept the American ideas--you used a slightly more--a softer phrasing--and would you care for the first time to say in any way what those ideas are?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, I have said that it would be on the basis of the American ideas, which I think is pretty much the same way we've been saying it all along. And I don't want to go into any further detail on what they are because they continue to be a subject of discussion and negotiation.
REPORTER: Madam Secretary, two questions: First, are you setting a deadline for an agreement before talks can open on Monday, are you setting a deadline? Do you say you have to agree on the West Bank withdrawals, the two phases, before you will meet with Netanyahu and Arafat in Washington? And will they meet together? And secondly, at what point will you get tired of conducting peace talks on these issues? You said last week that talks keep--can't keep going around in circles, yet, the talks here proved inconclusive. Are you getting frustrated? Are you getting tired?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, we have said that this invitation is for May 11th, conditioned, as I stated, and so if you want to say that is a deadline, the deadline is such that there is no point in talking about the permanent status, the accelerated permanent status talks if we have not agreed on these other issues. And I must say we have been engaged in what I consider a vigorous effort to achieve an agreement. We will continue to do so in the coming days But if agreement is not achieved, we will have to re-examine our approach to the peace process. The U.S. remains committed to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace, and frankly, the question is what is the best way for us to bring the parties to the point of making the necessary decisions, and that's what we'll be looking at. But I have to say that I think the meetings here were important. I think, as I said in my opening statement, there has been some progress. And Prime Minister Netanyahu, I think, has some constructive and interesting ideas that he is going to be examining with his cabinet. I, as all of you have followed me around, I am realistic, but I'm also hopeful, and I think we'll just have to see. And if this particular approach is one that does not reach the kind of determination or fruition that we would like, as I said, we will re-examine our approach to this. And we'll take it from there.
REPORTER: Would that be walking away from the talks?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: We are not going to walk away from a peace process. It's too important to the United States and to Israel and to our friends in the Middle East. But we will need to re-examine the way that we go about it. I think that's the most I can say at this point.